"Wolf Creek Pass way up on the Great Divide..."

Pagosa Springs Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 10 › view all entries
Valley on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass (photo courtesy of Eric Voss)

Saturday, July 20, 1996


Today we head back towards home. We won’t be home tonight, because we are going to spend most of the day in the Canon City area. We had to get an early start, because there is a lot we wanted to see and do, and it was a 5 ½ hour drive to get there. About half of that drive would be in the beautiful Colorado mountains. The rest in the less beautiful, but still interesting San Luis Valley.


After checking out of our hotel, and getting a drive-thru breakfast from Burger King, we jumped on Highway 160 and headed east.

The Snow Shed on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass
We would be taking this through the San Juan Mountains, into the San Luis Valley. Highway 286 would take us north along the western boundary of the valley.  Then finally,  Highway 50 east following the Arkansas River to The Royal Gorge, would complete our day’s drive.


The trip through the San Juans continued the landscape overload we had been experiencing the last 48 hours. For about 1 ½ hours we drove admiring the blue sky, green valleys, grandiose mountains and the occasional animal spotting. That picturesque drive ended with us pulling into Pagosa Springs.


My last entry mentioned singer, CW McCall. He had another tune called “Wolf Creek Pass”.

The distant mountain in the San Luis Valley
This song told the tale of a pair of truck drivers who were taking a load of chickens over Wolf Creek Pass. The truck turned into a runaway, when gravity on the downhill side got the better of them. There was an encounter with a tunnel and, ultimately, the predictable crash into a “feed store in downtown Pagosa Springs”.


I didn’t see a feed store, but I did think of the song as we started our ascent up to the pass. It’s not as treacherous as CW makes it out to be, but I’ll bet it’s a real bitch in the winter. The grades are 7% and 8% on both sides. Very steep. The tunnel in the song is actually a snow shed. This is a cover built over the highway to prevent the frequent avalanches from blocking the highway in this area. It did seem like a tunnel, though. The whole area is just stunning, with every curve bringing a new perspective on our mountain view.


Once over the pass, we started our descent into the San Luis Valley. But, there was plenty of mountain scenery left to wow us. After another 1 ½ hours we were out of the San Juans. The change was striking. Instead of having mountains bearing down on us from all sides, they rapidly receded to be nothing but distant background. The San Luis Valley is about 8000 square miles in area. It felt like we were back in Brighton, except instead of just seeing mountains to the west, they were on all sides of us.


This part of the drive was bit boring. Lots of flat open space, with various shades of brown and grey. It took another 1 1/2 hours at highway speeds, on flat terrain to get from the lower end to the upper end of the valley. But, the turn onto US 50 meant we were almost there! Another hour or so and we would be at the gorge. I couldn’t wait.

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Valley on the west side of Wolf Cr…
Valley on the west side of Wolf C…
The Snow Shed on the east side of …
The Snow Shed on the east side of…
The distant mountain in the San Lu…
The distant mountain in the San L…
Pagosa Springs
photo by: AbbyAlyssa